Toronto Star Story Highlights Legal Coaching

Toronto Star Story Highlights Legal Coaching

Last Saturday’s Toronto Star carried a feature article focusing on potential “solutions” for SRLs.The feature canvassed innovative developments in the US, UK and Canada.

Each story segment highlighted ways in which those without a full legal qualification – including law students – could nonetheless offer significant assistance to SRLs. In the US, Judge Fern Fisher described New York’s “Court Navigator” program that began by using law students to “steer” SRLs through the courts, and has now grown into an institutionalized program with more than (paid and voluntary) 60 Navigators.

The Canadian story segment featured Windsor Law’s student coaching program, in which local SRLs are matched with law students who can offer legal information, assistance with forms and perhaps most of all, a listening ear and a sense of perspective (law students cannot give any legal advice). William Good, a Windsor Law student who worked in a voluntary capacity with a SRL for six months in 2014 commented: “Most self-represented litigants just want somebody to hear them — being able to talk about their problem without somebody judging them…(this SRL) knew what her legal issues were. She needed somebody who could help her see through the mud….”

At the NSRLP, we also see opportunities for lawyers to use their knowledge and experience to offer coaching that includes some legal advice on an “unbundled” basis. Julie recently conducted a workshop for the Nova Scotia Barristers Society on how lawyers might offer and market legal coaching to SRLs.

The final story segment from the UK focused on the use of use of McKenzie Friends (MFs) (McKenzie v McKenzie  [1971] P 33; [1970] 3  WLR 472; [1970] 3 All ER 1034, CA). With the agreement of the presiding judge, MFs can accompany those without representation to hearings, take notes and offer support, as long as they do not address the court themselves. In the UK, a “professional association” for McKenzie friends (w is designed to give the role credibility and provide standards to which all members must sign up ( The site lists sixteen MFs who specify their area of expertise, and charge between $55 and $100 an hour.

In Canada, a request for a MF is usually likely to be from a friend or family member. There appears to be relatively little knowledge and experience of the use of MFs in Canada (although see David Mossop’s excellent paper at and many SRLs are unaware of the possibility of asking the judge to allow them to have a MF.

For this reason, Osgoode graduate student Judy da Silva will be working with NSRLP this summer to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the potential role of a MF in Canadian courts. Judy will first conduct interviews with judges asking for their direction and guidance on when they might agree to allow a MF to sit with a SRL in their courtroom. She will then develop a NSRLP primer for SRLs on how to best present a case for bringing a MF, into court with them, as well as what type of person makes a good MF. Look forward to future announcements about the launch of this new resource, expected in Fall 2015.


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  • Anonymous

    I obtained my law degree in 1992. I practiced law in N.S. through the 1990s before leaving in the fall of 2000 for Calgary to seek work where I could apply my legal knowledge and experience without practicing. I let my membership in the N.S. Barristers’ Society lapse at the end of 2000. From early 2001 until late 2013, I’ve worked as a legal researcher for three different employers, the longest term being nine years for not-for-profit research centre. I left after taking a package in November of 2013. Based on my experiences at that centre with self-represented people calling seeking help and also on reading so many stories of people unable to get legal assistance because of the high cost of lawyers, I decided to incorporate my own agency and offer my services as a legal coach/legal researcher for SLRs.

    Now, nearly one year in, my severance package having been exhausted, having cashed in most of a small RRSP, and having been obliged to work in a totally unrelated capacity in order to bring in much needed cash flow, I can only say that my experience as a legal coach/legal researcher for SLRs has been an experience characterized for the most part by frustration, anxiety and lack of respect. I am not alluding here to the experiences of the few clients I’ve had (they certainly have exhibited these characteristics or relayed these feeling to me). I am speaking of my own experience. My work is not valued as it should be. Essentially, I’ve found that clients, prospective and real (i.e. the ones who’ve actually paid money) are expecting legal advice/representation at paralegal rates. I routinely hear: “oh, you’re not a real lawyer”. Regarding my first client, a female SLR for whom I did a major research memo that was subsequently used by the lawyer from a major Calgary law firm in her divorce trial, when I recently discussed with her the value that my work had brought to her claim at a fraction of the cost that a lawyer would have charged, curtly said that her lawyer had said, “oh, we would have just had an articling clerk do the work for us.”

    To say that my experience has been disappointing and disheartening would be an understatement. I’ve decided to keep my corporate name registered. However, I am actively pursuing getting clients in a completely unrelated, unglamorous (not that law practice is ever a glamorous field) activity that at least pays my bills. I will take the occasional SLR matter if I can get a decent fee from it. However I can safely say, based on my experience these past few months, that all of the problems associated with working as practicing lawyer — demanding, high maintenance clients; people who don’t respect one’s work (everyone’s an expert these days thanks to whatever they can find on Google and/or what their trusted friend tells them) and remuneration that doesn’t truly reflect one’s experience and time spent on a matter — are endemic to coaching/legal research for SLRs. The only difference being, of course, that one cannot charge a lawyer’s rate. Unless there is some well-funded social business model that can provide reasonable salaries for the coaches/researchers providing assistance to SLRs, to expect to earn a decent living working in such a capacity is not realistic.

    March 26, 2015 at 8:57 pm

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